In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I decided to watch the 2013 Sundance hit The Spectacular Now starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley; and to my amazement, it’s more than just the romance between two divergent (see what I did there) teenagers that made me love it. It’s an endearing coming-of-age film that deserves much more credit on its layered storytelling about the urgency of youth. It shines on its deep portrayal of teenagers; and its natural beauty unfolding onscreen is truly spectacular to behold.
An ordinary love story made extraordinary by its narrative maturity and genuine acting, THE SPECTACULAR NOW is one of the best (and if I may add) and special coming-of-age dramas I’ve seen. At face value, it doesn’t lack the charm in the likes of Teller, Woodley and Brie Larson who relive teenage glory in the formative years of high school. Relatability is the core of this genre and while the film is inviting of personal memories and/or the sheer similarities among Sutter, Aimee and Cassidy, it’s the ingenious treatment of the characters that captivates me the most. The level of discernment among the leads makes THE SPECTACULAR NOW more than just a cheeky escapade for adolescent validation. It’s both conscious and selfless on its spontaneous dalliance that unwarrantedly leads to personal growth. No other teen film has gracefully addressed the concept of inescapable future and carpe diem. Succinctly, THE SPECTACULAR NOW is an empowered and affecting portrait of teenage sensibility that feels more real than it should be because of how lifelike and truthful it could be.
(Warning: spoilers ahead)
Sutter (Teller) and Aimee (Woodley) are like comets that rarely pass the earth, albeit in the film’s universe, crossed each other’s path (or lawn) by chance even though they go to the same high school. They bear the classic DNAs of teenage typecasts: Sutter as the happy-go-lucky and life-of-the-party alcoholic while Aimee is the smart and pretty wallflower. THE SPECTACULAR NOW impresses on how it doesn’t pass judgment on its characters. Instead, it sinks into their soulfulness that soon calibrates the story. With the uncertainty of the future as its endgame, the film lingers on how Sutter and Aimee become each other’s biggest influence since their coincidental encounter. Their relationship starts platonic: Aimee unabashedly lets Sutter inside her sheltered life of science fiction and manga while he guilefully takes her to parties and introduces her first sip of alcohol. Pensive as she is, Aimee could be aware that Sutter still keeps his eyes on his ex-girlfriend, Cassidy (Larson). Nevertheless, it’s the conviction she found through him that Aimee decides for her future away from home. Her love doesn’t evolve out of desperation (since Sutter is the first guy who took interest at her) but it was organic as she perceives the goodness in him that he couldn’t see.
Sutter’s influence on her eventfully materializes, but like his tolerance to alcohol, Sutter has yet to swallow his sorrows until Aimee’s accident served as his wakeup call. It was not until Aimee’s urging (for his peace of mind) that Sutter finally visits his estranged father who fueled his intoxicated anger and misery. Sutter’s reliance on his drinking to cope with his faulty opinions on his mother and misaligned persistence on Cassidy becomes less of a defense mechanism as Aimee keeps him company ardently. The ‘incident’ scarred Sutter, realizing that his inebriated alter-ego is no good for Aimee and his desire to change himself for the better is ignited to be more deserving of her love.
Sutter (Miles Teller) and Aimee (Shailene Woodley)
Teller and Woodley are equally the source of THE SPECTACULAR NOW’s genuine charisma as their emotional depth radiate onscreen, be it Sutter’s pent-up frustrations or Aimee’s unrequited warmth that are nothing short of natural and spirited acting. But beyond the youthful façade evoking sentimentality is its emotive ripeness that stands out in the genre. THE SPECTACULAR NOW is successful on its precocious and unpretentious treatment of characters whose insecurities are bridged to something bigger than themselves. Sutter and Aimee are perceived not as capricious teenagers but are empowered as impassioned individuals anticipating the future (in their case: life after graduation). The film cultivates a mature environment with a profound grasp on reality, shaping sage characters through the process. The screenplay is eloquent on the instrumentality of Sutter and Aimee’s influence on each other towards their personal growth. Seeing their character development was both bittersweet and redeeming after all the hurt they’d gone through, especially Sutter who saved himself from drowning on his family woes and lack of ambition. Apart from the story’s resonance, THE SPECTACULAR NOW is simply glowing of palpable human intensity that empathy is the least to define how potent this film is. One way or another, it’s a precise retelling of someone’s history (or even a part of our own) and the film’s translucent genuineness makes viewers want to care more.
Adapted from Tim Thorp’s novel, THE SPECTACULAR NOW deftly balances the humor and heart of the young – restless on the present and sober towards the future. It is sweetened by an endearing cast and seasoned by the dramatic gravitas of realistic proportions. This coming-of-age film witnesses the growth of its characters; not coerced but raw and unhurried. As Sutter and Aimee’s romantic and personal journey shows, change should come inherent and it begins now.